Barfing, Bullwinkle and big air. That’s how some might sum up the fifth annual Paddling Life Pro Invitational held on Mon., May 31, in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Fresh from the lowlands of Greenville to the altitude of the Rockies, Corey Volt puked at the end of the extreme race on Fish Creek. Two moose joined the spectators on the sidelines. And big air was the name of the game at the freestyle event, with Nick Troutman taking the combined crown for the second straight year, and Emily Jackson and Ruth Gordon settling for a tie between the women.
Featuring an all-star cast of some of the world’s best kayakers, the event drew some of the world’s best paddlers to Steamboat Springs, including two current world freestyle champions (Nick and Emily) as well as former world champion Ruth Gordon, to Steamboat for the two-event competition offering more than $3,500 in cash and prizes.
World class talent and great weather combined to bring spectators to both events. For the creek race fans arrived early and lined both shores. Some scaled boulders, logs, and steep terrain to get a view of the action. Professional and amateur photographers alike took advantage of the beautiful surroundings and pleasant weather to snap pictures of the contestants as they battled the elements on their way to the finish line. If the creek race was a hike in the woods, the freestyle event was a downtown block party. Smooth jams pumped through massive speakers as the announcers encouraged the contestants to pull monster tricks. Little kids played along the banks, dogs chilled in the shade, and the rest of us watched the pros go to work.
Capping off the weekend-long 30th anniversary of the Yampa River Festival, Troutman earned his second consecutive title after storming back in the freestyle event from a fourth-place showing on the extreme race down Fish Creek. In the downriver portion, it was the Kiwi connection drawing first blood, with Sam Sutton and Brad Lauder of New Zealand taking the first two spots, followed by Dagger paddler Corey Volt in third. With Mother Nature finally relinquishing her winter wares, Sutton surged through the Class IV-V course with a time of 3:10:22, a full five seconds ahead of Lauder in second. For the women, with three-time winner Tanya Faux of Australia sidelined with the flu, Jackson took an early lead ahead of Gordon, setting the stage for the two to battle it out in Charlie’s Hole on the Yampa downtown in the afternoon’s freestyle event.
After the creek race, competitors moved downstream for the freestyle event, where Troutman made up for lost time in the creek race by edging out Stephen Wright and Volt in the finals. Sutton followed Troutman in second place overall, with two-time Invitational champion Stephen Wright taking third overall.
Jackson and Gordon, meanwhile, traded one-two finishes to settle for a tie for first place overall. Jackson finished first in the creek race and second in freestyle, with Gordon making up for her second-place creek race showing with a dynamic victory in freestyle. Sarah Hamilton took third.
“All in all, it was a great event,” says Paddling Life’s Eugene Buchanan, adding that it couldn’t be done without the support of such sponsors as Steamboat in the Summertime, Kokatat, NRS, MTI, New Belgium, Freestyle, Smith and others. “It’s pretty unique to test competitors in both downriver and freestyle in the same event.”
“It’s an awesome format,” says Gordon, now on her way to the Teva Mountain Games. “You have to be good at both river running and freestyle to pull off a win.” Adds Troutman: “It was an awesome day…great water levels and even better weather.”
Corey Kopischke, photographer and good friend of PL has even more photos from the event
Paddling Life Pro Invitational Final Results
Men’s Overall (place/name/points)
Women’s Overall (place/name/points)
Men’s Creek Race (place/name/points)
Women’s Creek Race (place/name/points)
Men’s Freestyle (place/name/points)
Women’s Freestyle (place/name/points)